Tackling bullying among children
Bullying remains, for many of our children in schools across the nation, a constant feature of life both in and out of the classroom. Despite numerous campaigns aimed at eliminating it, and ceaseless work in many schools, this aspect of human interaction remains. We hear reports that our children are among the unhappiest in the world because of widespread bullying, and that record numbers of UK children are excluded for racist bullying - the stories are numerous and paint a consistently desperate picture. Bullying is rife and it is ruining lives.
“I just want it to stop”
There is no legal definition of bullying, but there is a broad understanding that it is usually defined as being behaviour that is repeated, intentionally hurtful (either physically or emotionally), or aimed at certain groups (for example because of religion, sexual orientation, gender or race). It can involve cyber-bullying (for example via text messages, emails, social media and messenger apps), teasing, threats, name calling, other emotional abuse and physical attacks. Some forms of bullying are illegal and should be reported to the police. For example, violence or assault, theft, harassment or intimidation (name calling, threats, abusive text messages or phone calls etc), and hate crimes. But we know this. We have all sat through bullying prevention training and wrestled with ideas about how to make the institutions we work in or support as free from bullying as we possibly can. Yet still it persists.
Martha Evans, Director of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, told us that, “When the Anti-Bullying Alliance surveyed children last year, we found the equivalent of one child in every classroom said they were being bullied face to face or online every day. The children who experience bullying are at a higher risk of experiencing a range of mental health issues and leaving school with fewer qualifications. The impact can last well in to adulthood. School staff have a vital role in stopping bullying happening and lessening the painful effects of bullying when it does happen. Teachers can encourage respect across the whole school community and be on hand to support children who are on the receiving end of bullying when they need help.”
“There’s no point telling a teacher”
It is clear that there is a strong role for schools to play in educating against bullying and for healthy relationships between children (as well as between staff). The Anti-Bullying Alliance offers advice for teachers when tackling bullying based on what we know about bullying. For example:
- It’s not the fault of the victim if they are bullied.
- Bullying has a lasting impact on the victim.
- Gender stereotypes (e.g. rough boys and bitchy girls) do not help when it comes to preventing and dealing with bullying. Anyone can be capable of bullying.
- We need to make it easy for children to speak out when they, or someone they know, is being bullied.
“We don’t have bullying at this school”
If your school claims that there is no bullying going on among children the chances are it is not being recognised. Acknowledging it is the first step to eradicating it. Even if your school has a great anti-bullying policy, and works hard to tackle it when it does arise, it’s worth re-focusing on these suggestions every now and then:
- How bully-proof are your classrooms and classes? Is bullying talked about? Could a victim suffer in silence?
- Focus incessantly on positive relationships. Scan your curriculum and wider school day to locate where children get to learn about and experience healthy relating. If this doesn’t seem to be specific enough in what you currently do, what changes need to happen?
- Make support for the victims of bullying highly visible around the school. For example, put up the numbers of helplines such as Childline (see below for more) in places where children will see them.
- Help children to talk about their experiences of being at your school, to each other, to teachers and to parents.
- Be meticulous about recording incidents of bullying and the steps you are taking to support the children involved. It is essential that they are happy with this process.
- Make your anti-bullying policy visible in your school and freely accessible for parents.
- Get governors on board when it comes to tackling bullying. How rigorously do they challenge your school on its record on eradicating bullying?
- Build community cohesion in your school and beyond. Small steps and gestures can go far in building understanding and empathy. Encourage every member of your school’s community to be involved.
- Be sure to offer support for teachers who are dealing with bullying among children. It can be exhausting working through bullying incidents to a positive conclusion on top of all the other demands of the job. The benefits are two-fold; not only do we help to prevent a colleague succumbing to burnout, but we also model the kind of supporting behaviour we want to see in those we teach.
Find out more…
- The Anti-Bullying Alliance website carries extensive help and guidance on reducing and eliminating bullying. There is specific advice for schools and teachers here
- Bullying UK is part of Family Lives and offers information of use to schools.
- Childline carries a breadth of information for children and young people including advice on bullying.
- Anti-Bullying from The Diana Award is an anti-bullying programme.
- Internet Matters carries advice on cyber-bullying, as does the UK Safer Internet Centre and the UK Council for Child Internet Safety
- Kidscape and Young Minds both offer help for bullying.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.